Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art at the V&A Waterfront


- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

I watched the metamorphosis from coal sheds to gallery, grain silos to hotel. Behind the geodesic windows, with views across the harbour and up to Table Mountain is a very expensive hotel The Silo. On Wednesday mornings entry to Zeitz MOCAA is free if you have an African ID.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art

Sapphire sky, gold from Africa, and coral beads. The horror of what he sees thru the gap torn in his sail, kept me sleepless all night. The world scaled to human size.

Culture Shock
Culture Shock

The building intrigues me. To rework vast grain silos, remembering the history embedded in the concrete. Built in 1921-4, it was the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa till 1974. Architect Heatherwick - “We got one of the [original] grains, digitally scanned it, enlarged that grain to ten stories high, and used that as the carving pattern.” Construction workers used double-blade handsaws to painstakingly carve the curvaceous inner sanctum. Across the heart flies a delicate dragon Lightning Bird by Nicholas Hlobo (South Africa).

Lightning Bird in the foyer
Lightning Bird in the foyer

I have always loved rock and stone. At the base of the silos the scalloped curves of exposed concrete have been polished smooth as satin. The aggregate glows like gems. Robben Island slate?? No - bits of Table Mountain!

Silky concrete
Silky concrete

My father once worked at Imperial Cold Storage in the harbour (as a railway engineer). Abandoned machinery and tunnels - against Table Mountain to remind me - this is not London. This vibrant contemporary city is my own Cape Town. Art students were sketching the building.

History in machinery
History in machinery

The Waves. Walls hung with squares of ... canvas, old sails in shades of cream and tan? But no - it is beads, made in Japan - deliberately with a chalky surface to absorb skin oils as they are strung together. Blood, sweat and tears show in the gentle understated colours. Their names listed in acknowledgement by the artist Liza Lou USA.

Chalky glass beads
Chalky glass beads

Gold script on this painting by Kudzani Chiurai (Zimbabwe) memorialises Lily. And her daughter Martha. A four year old housemaid. To be sold together. With a warning that they are disloyal. The dates when they ran away listed above. We live in a city where socalled Coloured people bear surnames April, September or August from their slave forebears.

Martha housemaid 4 years old
Martha housemaid 4 years old

Julien Sinzogan (Benin) Choc du Cultures - Bon Vent a Tous. Distracted by the vibrant golds of the sails, I suddenly realised what was looming over these dugout canoes. Slave ships towering up and blotting out the sun. Companion piece showed manacled and handcuffed slaves trudging to the slave ships.

Slave ships
Slave ships

Black sun in wood and Perspex by Daniella Mooney (South Africa) represents Yeku-meji, [from] the Yoruba system of geomancy known as iFa [and] signifies remembrance of the dead. Coral beads have a disconcerting unreal quality as they are collaged photos. The inked hair turns jewellery to landscape - Taiye Idahor (Nigeria). Gathering of hoes for Harvest by Michele Mathison (South Africa). I was admiring the way these snakes were built (Ophiophillia by Frances Goodman South Africa) Scales curved and shaped just so. I have gardener's paws, and didn't recognise ... acrylic nails! Caribbean peacock eyes on a mask by Cyrus Kabiru (Kenya). Knitting has devoured a few small children with Roger Ballen (USA).

Contemporary African Art
Contemporary African Art

The dust house filtered the air for workers and 'stopped the building from exploding'. Addio del Passato from Traviata. Artist Yinka Shonibare (Lagos and London) uses Indonesian Dutch exported 'African' batik for the costumes. The sound in that hollow tower was amazing. Video from the artist, sung by Nadine Benjamin.

V&A Waterfront Cape Town (with Table Mountain, Lion's Head and) Signal Hill
V&A Waterfront Cape Town
(with Table Mountain, Lion's Head and) Signal Hill

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Pictures by Diana Studer

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Comments

  1. We missed this museum while visiting Cape Town so this was a very interesting tour for me ... I love the use of rock and stone and bits of Table Mountain! But the most heart rendering photo was the name of the slave & her young daughter... What an appalling trade... It makes it all the more real and dreadful to see photos like that & of the slave ships.

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    1. I was expecting to admire the building, and whizz thru the contemporary art ... but both were fascinating!

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  2. What an incredible creation this museum is! You don't see many structures created with such a fervent homage to the history of the space or the people who the region.

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    1. Reading the layers of the story back to 1974, before we married. And the grain silos were abandoned when containers replaced them in 1990.

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  3. What a fascinating museum! In every way - its history, its renovation, the art it contains. It is wrenching to be reminded of the slave industry, a heritage that my region of the US shares. I recently read some letters written by one of my ancestors and was shocked when I realized he was a slave owner.

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    1. Digging back on my father's side (Welsh Watkins before New Zealand) There is a mysterious set of letters about fostering a girl, who may have been a slave. The bit that goes back to Hans Sloane, and chocolate.
      https://eefalsebay.blogspot.co.za/2016/10/chelsea-physic-garden-and-london.html

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  4. A whole other side of you, the poetic, as opposed to the scientific and analytical in many of your other posts. Both are excellent!

    Re: stone, to visit the state of Arizona is to see a wonderland of stone--it is so much more a feature of life there, and in such amazing diversity and beauty.

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    1. Thank you !

      Armchair travelling via blog posts for me.

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  5. It took me three days to read this post (not whole days). So many interesting links!

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    1. Too many? I do appreciate your dedication, and it was such a fascinating story to unpack.

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  6. What an interesting museum. I must confess, I often do not get contemporary art, but the paintings of the slave ships are quite heartbreaking.

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    1. but you have that blue wood collage your family created together. I remember how beautiful that was, the process and the result.

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  7. So many fascinating snippets in this post, Diana. The Lily and Martha story is very moving, as is the ADDIO DEL PASSATO recording. I can imagine it would sound amazing in a hollow tower. P. x

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  8. Oh my, what a wonderful museum. And what complicated feelings are aroused when the horrors of the slave trade are represented with such beauty.

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    1. This week went again with my sister, and experienced it fresh thru her eyes.

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